Theft in French House

By Emma WestRasmus

Macalester students often think of the school as a crime-free haven, insulated from the realities of city living. But that sense of security was shattered for some students this weekend when theft struck the French House at 180 Vernon Street. Live-in native speaker Caroline Richards believes the unknown thief nabbed several items in the common room of the language house between 4:30 and 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning, although the exact time has not been identified. The identity of the intruder and how he or she got into the house is also unclear.

Richards is missing a college-owned laptop that Macalester was loaning her, and house resident Amelia Fedo ’13 had her laptop, cell phone, cell phone charger, backpack and purse stolen from the common room.

“I was working on my laptop on Saturday and left it in the living room,” Richards said. “I went back at noon the next day and couldn’t find it, which is how we realized something was wrong.”

There were no signs of forcible entry or damage to the exterior of the house. The language houses and Eco House on Vernon Street are not accessible by D-key, and each house has its own unique exterior key.

According to Emily Krouse-Gagne, Residence Hall Director for all upperclassman housing including the French House, only the six student residents of the French House and its two adult native speakers have the exterior key. Additionally, each resident of the house has an individualized interior room key that corresponds to his or her own bedroom.

“The house was as secure as it could be,” said Krouse-Gagne.

Richards said the student whose electronics and bag were stolen had been in the common area of the house until 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning with friends, and the blinds in the room were not closed. Richards said she believes someone waited outside until the lights were turned off and the student went to bed before entering the house, though she admits she isn’t sure.

Krouse-Gagne sent an email to the residents of the language and Eco houses on Tuesday afternoon informing them of the incident and offering suggestions about ways toto best protect their own houses from a similar event.

“Security will be doing increased tours of the language/eco houses community in light of this event,” Krouse-Gagne wrote in the email. She added that there will be increased safety checks on the houses as an additional precaution.

“Our priorities are that the students and native speakers feel safe, are recovering and to figure out what exactly happened,” Krouse-Gagne said.

“Some of us, myself included, had a hard time sleeping the night after the burglary, and we’re still pretty jumpy,” Fedo said.

The St. Paul police department was notified immediately following the discovery that the items had been stolen, and it is working in conjunction with Macalester Campus Security and Residential Life to get to the bottom of the theft.

According to Krouse-Gagne, however, there are no leads.

Both she and Richards expressed uncertainty about how long the investigation process will take.

“We haven’t been contacted by the police since [Sunday], so I don’t know,” Richards said.

Director of Safety and Security Terry Gorman said that steps were taken immediately following the incident to prevent further theft, including changing the house’s locks on Sunday evening, and making the windows harder to open. Gorman said the next step for Safety and Security was to get information regarding the event out to the community and to put more security officers in the area to keep an eye out for strangers or odd behavior around the houses.

“We don’t do forensics-that’s way out of the realm of what we do,” Gorman said. Though this was the first backpack theft incident on campus this school year, the isolated nature of the theft did not cause great alarm on campus. “This incident didn’t really reach the level of a security alert,” Gorman said.

However Fedo is not satisfied by the school’s reaction. Fedo said she felt betrayed and angry by the Macalester’s response to the theft, and said she believed more could have been done to prevent the incident.

“I feel like the houses aren’t as protected as the dorms, which is terrible because the dorms are actually safer-they’re not right on a residential street, they’ve got thick doors with good locks, they don’t have huge windows that are easy to see into, and there are so many kids in them that someone is bound to be awake at any given time,” Fedo said. “We’re ridiculously exposed-a poorly secured house full of college kids and expensive electronics. Res Life and the French Department say that this has never happened before, and it ‘must be the economy’-but that’s no excuse. You should spare no expense making sure everyone is safe. Isn’t the whole point to stop this sort of thing before it happens, not just to do damage control?”

Krouse-Gagne believes this is a good opportunity for students to remember to be vigilant about locking their rooms when they are not in them, or even when they are sleeping or listening to music with headphones.

Anyone with information about the theft is encouraged to bring it to the attention of Campus Safety and Security or Residential Life.